A mosquito species found in New Zealand may be able to carry and transmit the Zika virus, according to preliminary research from Brazil.
The mosquito species Aedes aegypti has been identified as the primary transmitter of Zika infections, which have been linked to thousands of birth defects.
But scientists in Brazil have announced that they were able to infect another species, Culex quinquefasciatus, with the virus in a laboratory, raising concerns that Zika could be carried by a more prevalent species.
In Brazil, Culex quinquefasciatus is 20 times more common than Aedes aegypti, the researchers said.
The species is also present in New Zealand, and is spread through much of the North Island and northern parts of the South Island.
"These developments indicate that the widespread claim that Zika is transmitted only by Aedes mosquitoes is probably erroneous," says Dr José G B Derraik, a senior research fellow at Auckland University's Liggins Institute.
He says that while we know that the mosquito species transmitting the virus overseas does not exist in New Zealand, it's not yet known whether one of the 15 mosquito species that are present here could also transmit Zika.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health says the risk of local transmission of the Zika virus remains very low.
"Even though the risk of mosquitoes transmitting the virus to humans in New Zealand is lower than in other countries, this possibility cannot be simply disregarded," says Dr Derraik.
The research, conducted by scientists at the government-funded Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, is part of an ongoing trial in which researchers injected 200 of the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes with rabbit blood infected by Zika.
The virus circulated through the mosquitoes' bodies and into their salivary glands, meaning they might be able to transmit a Zika infection by biting a person.
The research has yet to be published in a scientific journal or reviewed by scientific peers elsewhere.
The foundation said more work was needed to determine whether Culex mosquitoes in the wild are carrying the virus, as well as whether they can transmit Zika infections.
Last month the World Health Organisation declared the Zika outbreak a global public health emergency.
Much remains unknown about the virus, including whether it actually causes microcephaly in babies, a condition defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 640 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.
Newshub. / Reuters